Are Your Sales Contacts Quality or Quantity?

By Heather Baldwin

With LinkedIn and Facebook making a public display of the numbers of “connections” or “friends” we have, it’s tempting to equate numbers with success. But long-term sales success isn’t about the quantity of your connections; it’s about quality.

“Relationships have become the currency of the new economy,” says Tommy Spaulding, former CEO of Up With People, a global international-leadership organization, and author of It’s Not Just Who You Know. In a business world that moves at the speed of light, sales professionals can be quick to move along when a sale doesn’t appear imminent. But real, genuine relationships based on mutual trust and respect lead directly to profits, says Spaulding.

“All too often we limit ourselves to the quick and easy,” observes Spaulding. “We go for the low-hanging fruit. So any relationship that isn’t ‘microwavable’ gets left on the shelf.” The irony is that by taking the long view and investing the time to transform your contacts into real and lasting relationships, you will also transform your sales results. Spaulding offers these points to get you started:

Give to your network. Replace your outdated views of networking with a new view of netgiving. The first is all about you; it’s about building up your contact base and adding more names to your network with the goal of increasing sales. “Netgiving,” however, is all about building relationships that help others around you succeed. It’s about making business personal. Go through your contact list and reach out to people with the aim of helping, whether it’s just a phone call to see how a big event turned out or an introduction to someone else in your LinkedIn network. Whatever you can offer, focus 100 percent on giving and not getting anything out of it.

Seek advice, not business. When you seek the opinions of others, you communicate that you value them and hold their viewpoints in high regard, and you are humble enough to know you don’t have all the answers – all big steps toward deepening a relationship. “The most valuable questions I’ve ever asked others had little to do with what they could do for me or my organization and everything to do with what they thought about something,” says Spaulding. “The principle is simple: Ask others what they think instead of what they can do.”

Listen with empathy, sincerity, and full attention. Most people “don’t really listen when they ask a question. Usually, they’re already formulating their next response,” says Spaulding. “So when they ask, ‘How’s your family?’ they don’t listen to the answer. They start thinking about their own family or what they want to share when the other person stops talking.”

The problem: You give off a vibe of not caring when you don’t listen with your full attention and empathy for the other person’s experiences – and that’s a quick way to close doors on a potential relationship. Start the practice of listening fully today – whether you are in conversation with a prospect you’ve just met, a co-worker, or the clerk at the coffee shop – and watch how others respond to you. You’ll find they want to be around you – and buy from you – more often.

Take the long view. Think of investing in relationships as investing in a retirement fund: Your investment compounds over time and the small, incremental contributions can pay enormous dividends down the road. Spaulding remembers joining a civic organization and being mentored by an insurance sales professional. Upon learning of his mentor’s job, Spaulding figured he’d be spending most of his time trying to fend off sales pitches. But the mentor never brought up insurance; he spent his lunches with Spaulding learning all about him, his goals and motivations. After a few years, Spaulding recalls turning to his mentor and saying, “I can’t stand it any more; when are you going to try to sell me insurance?” Only then, says Spaulding, did the mentor talk about his products. In the end, Spaulding bought a policy that he renews every year.

“Our Western culture promotes executing business at the speed of light, which often leaves the wrong things dead along the side of the road,” Spaulding concludes. Enslaved to “the tyranny of the urgent” and “the perceived demands of the bottom line,” too many sales professionals, even those who believe in the value of investment in deep, lasting relationships, end up neglecting them. Eventually, says Spaulding, it costs them.